Globally, marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug. Classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, marijuana is a mood-altering drug that affects almost every organ in the body.
In 2017, 6 percent or about 1 in 16 high school seniors in the United States reported using marijuana (cannabis) every day. The number of 12th graders who think marijuana use is risky has halved in the last 20 years.
According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 19.8 million, or 80.6 percent of people who used illicit drugs in the U.S. used marijuana in the month before being surveyed. People can smoke marijuana, inhale it through vapor, brew it as a tea, apply it as a balm, or eat it in products, such as brownies or chocolate bars.
Some people use medical marijuana to treat chronic pain, muscle spasticity, anorexia, nausea, and sleep disturbances. Medical marijuana refers to either whole marijuana or its ingredients, such as cannabidiol (CBD), which forms the base of a limited number of approved medications.
Medical marijuana is not subject to governmental standardization, making its ingredients and potency unknown. It is not legal in all states.
Fast facts on marijuana:
The primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydro-cannabidinol (THC).
Marijuana contains more than 120 compounds, which are likely to have different properties.
The effects of recreational marijuana use include lightheadedness, a feeling of relaxation, increased appetite, and reduced blood pressure.
What is marijuana?
Marijuana comes from the dried flowering tops, leaves, stems, and seeds of the Cannabis sativa(hemp) plant. Humans have used marijuana for hundreds of years for fiber (hemp), seed oils, seed, medical treatment, and recreationally.
There is some evidence that marijuana or some of its components — such as CBD — may be useful for relieving severe pain, inflammation, nausea, and chronic conditions. However, CBD is just one of at least 120 substances (cannabinoids) found in marijuana. People have many health concerns about the use of the drug.
Another primary component of marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
THC is the key mind-altering (psychoactive) substance in marijuana. It acts on specific brain receptors, causing possible mood changes, depression, suicidal thinking, memory issues, and disruption to normal learning abilities. It may also produce dependency.
The compound is also known to stimulate appetite (informally known as “the munchies”) and induce a relaxed state, as well as other effects on sense of smell, hearing, and eyesight. THC can also cause fatigue. In some people, THC may reduce aggression.
The effects of the 120-plus cannabinoidspresent in cannabis are mostly unknown, but the most potent psychoactive agent identified to date is THC. When a person smokes cannabis, THC is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, reaching the brain within minutes.
The body absorbs THC more slowly when it is eaten, delaying the onset of action for up to 2 hours and prolonging the duration of the effect. THC and other cannabinoids in marijuana are similar to cannabinoids produced by the body. These natural cannabinoids act like neurotransmitters that send chemical messages between nerve cells (neurons) throughout the nervous system.
These neurotransmitters affect brain areas involved in memory, thinking, concentration, movement, coordination, sensory and time perception, as well as pleasure. The receptors that respond to these cannabinoids also react to THC, which can alter and disrupt normal brain function.
Some studies have shown that THC affects areas of the brain that control memory creation and attention. It also disrupts other parts of the brain, adversely affecting balance, posture, coordination, and reaction time. This can make it unsafe for a person using marijuana to drive a car, operate heavy machinery, or engage in sports or other potentially dangerous physical activities.
THC also stimulates specific cannabinoid receptors that increase the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter related to feelings of pleasure. People use marijuana to achieve a feeling of elation (a high), giddiness, and relaxation. Marijuana also produces sensory perception changes; colors may seem brighter, music more vivid, and emotions more profound. Some people experience feelings of paranoia.
When people consume cannabis for recreational purposes, they might experience the following effects:
changes in perception, due to a slight hallucinogenic effect that can create a distorted illusion of time and space
mood changes, leading to euphoria, feelings of energy, or a state of relaxation
higher heart rate
reduction in blood pressure
impairment of concentration and memory
reduced psychomotor coordination
nausea, even though some cannabinoids may help reduce nausea
increase in appetite
Depending on the length and amount of use, some traces of THC might still be present in a person’s urine for several months after they last used marijuana.
Marijuana may be addictive, and long-term use may cause various health problems.
Cannabis, like other pain relievers, can lead to dependence and addiction.
Over time, the severe, persistent overstimulation of the neurotransmitters that bind to cannabinoid receptors can cause changes in the brain that result in a marijuana use disorder or addiction.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), people who start using marijuana at a young age, and who are heavy users are more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than some other users.
Cannabis and related products, such as CBD, are legal in some states but not in others. It is important to check your state laws before purchasing marijuana, cannabis, or their derivatives.
Researchers have been looking into the possible benefits of cannabinoids for treating different health conditions. These include autoimmune disease, inflammation, pain, seizure disorders, psychiatric disorders and substance use disorders, withdrawal, and dependence.
CBD in medicine
Many researchers are investigating the medicinal potential of cannabidiol (CBD), a cannabinoid found in marijuana that does not have psychoactive effects.
In June 2018, following a lengthy process of research and clinical trials, the FDA approved the use of CBD to treat two rare and severe types of epilepsy that do not respond well to other treatments.
The drug is called Epidiolex, and it is a medication that derives from marijuana. It is a purified cannabidiol that does not contain THC.
Some people believe that CBD might help relieve the pain and inflammation that occurs with fibromyalgia and arthritis, for example, and possibly for treating anxiety and addiction.